As rents have become vastly more expensive over the last few years with an already scarce supply of affordable housing, it might surprise some to learn that certain vital lower-income professions—namely nurses and teachers—are actually able to keep their overall housing costs well below the recommended 30% of total income.
But that statistic hides a creeping web of other struggles created by these rent burdens, according to a new Zillow report, as nurses and teachers are constrained in their housing choices, often having to take on roommates and downgrade their living situation to make ends meet.
“Many renters have been able to keep costs low even as prices have grown over the past several years, but merely affording rent does not mean they are thriving,” said Zillow economic data analyst Nicole Bachaud, in a statement. “A deeper look shows a big slice of the market is out of reach for workers looking to maintain a comfortable rent burden.”
While the median rent burden in most large metros for teachers and nurses falls below that 30% level, people in these professions are only able to access a fraction of the market if they want to maintain that level. In Atlanta, for instance, less than 1% of rentals are available to teachers at the median rent burden of 18.2% of income. In Miami, where nurses typically spend just under 22% of their income on rent, only 2.6% of properties are within that range.
While in several metros the share of income teachers and nurses spent on rent has actually decreased in recent years (even as rents overall have risen 24% since 2016), Bachaud said this has come at a cost.
“That often means renting an older home with less space but a smaller price tag, or doubling up with roommates or a partner,” she said.
As vital professions are either being priced out or having to settle for smaller living spaces with longer commutes, Bachaud said cities can start taking steps to address these issues, which have made it difficult or nearly impossible for many communities to support nurses and teachers.
“Boosting supply is the clearest path to improving affordability,” Bachaud said. “Allowing for even small amounts of new density could have a big impact on prices.”
Relaxing zoning restrictions—specifically allowing single-family lots to build housing for two or four families—could quickly create vast swaths of new living spaces, with another Zillow study from 2019 estimating that this change in even 10% of lots could create 775,000 new homes in the Los Angeles metro, which amounts to more than a 50% increase over current stock.
Loosening restrictions like these could also serve to slow across-the-board runaway price growth caused by the recent overwhelming demand for homes, the report states.
Jesse Williams is RISMedia’s associate online editor. Email him your real estate news ideas to email@example.com.